And yes, even now, third party candidates matter.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been a bit swept up into the Obamania as of late. And you know what? Why the hell not? Conservatives like to mock and sneer at the enthusiasm that people have for Obama like a high school bully snickers and jeers at anything too earnest (and yet they cheerlead unabashedly for their #1 Crush, Sarah Palin). But liberals can fall into that cooler-than-thou bullshit, too: picture a self-conscious hipster who wrinkles their nose at gross displays of genuineness. I don’t claim to be immune; I’ve certainly been cynical and suspicious of the hype. But not right now. I think people in this country, especially people of color, really need this kind of hope, this kind of inspiration, this positive energy. I gotta say, it’s a great feeling to walk down the street in True Blue Brooklyn and look people in the eye and smile and feel that simple, basic sense of alliance with so many more people than usual, despite the differences, conflicts, and barriers that will still be there between us come November 5. Barack Obama may be solidly entrenched in the limited two-party system, but if he can do this for us, then hell, more power to him.

However: that doesn’t mean that now it’s all right to forget about third party candidates. Latoya Peterson gives us an excellent reminder of that over at Racialicious, asking “What’s the Deal with the Green Party?” and answering her own question with a thorough and much-needed look at the remarkable McKinney/Clemente ticket. Peterson ends with this message to voters and non-voters:

If you aren’t satisfied with your voting choices, then you need to advocate for more choices. You need to support candidates you believe in on a write in basis, or even consider running for political office yourself. But not voting should NEVER be an option. Even if you hate everyone on the board, you need to take yourself to the ballot box and vote. People died for your right to exercise this type of direct say in government. So have your say.

If you are voting for Obama, advocate your fucking hearts out today. I just told everyone on my Facebook page that if they didn’t vote, I was disowning them – and I mean that. I’m checking my friends for that “I Voted” sticker. It’s that serious to me.

If you’re voting for McCain, do your thing as well. Obviously, I don’t support your choice, but I respect that it’s your choice to make.

If you are voting for McKinney/Clemente, do not let anyone say that you are throwing your vote away. You are not. If Obama loses this election, it will not be because of who chose to vote for the Green Party – it will be because of those who voted for McCain – or worse, those who chose to stay home.

And if you are even considering staying home on election day, how about this – perform a random act of kindness and vote Green Party. Or Nader. Or other independents. If you hate the two-party system that much, help those who seek to dismantle it.

But apathy is not an option in this election.

On the one hand, I really appreciate what Peterson has to say here, especially about voting for McKinney and Clemente. Though I have chosen to vote for Obama despite living in an extremely safe space and will be proud to pull that lever, I can’t help from feeling a little pang of regret that I won’t be able to voice my support for McKinney, Clemente, and third-party candidates in general in the polling booth. (Oh, how I look forward to instant runoff voting!) I’ll be glad for everyone who will be casting their votes for the Green Party ticket and am really hoping that a decisive Obama victory will mean we won’t hear any of that “third parties = spoilers” bullshit this time around.

But Peterson’s assertion that “not voting should NEVER be an option” doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t think that non-voting always equates with apathy. Apathy means not giving a damn, but for many people, not voting is an intentional, thoughtful, deliberate act on the part of people who think that it is more harmful to validate an intrinsically corrupt system by voting than to possibly make a win easier for the greater of two evils by not voting. To me, acknowledging the validity of not voting for a good reason is a necessary corollary to acknowledging the validity of choosing a third party candidate despite a real need to vote an abusive, oppressive regime out of office.

kati brings this up in the comments of the Racialicious post:

What if you’re anti-statist and anti-hierarchy and do not see electoral politics as an avenue for real change? Anarchists are cowards now?

As someone with both familiarity and kinship with the Anarchist People of Color movement, I know that the answer is that anarchists are neither cowardly nor apathetic by virtue of their political beliefs; rather, they are often brave and passionate enough to challenge a system that they view as flawed at the base in ways that make most of us a little nervous. You catch a lot of flack when you go up against a status quo that has truly come to be accepted as permanent, relatively unchangeable and certainly unable of being dismantled entirely. And though there are enough points on which I differ with the anarchist movements that I’ve encountered to cause me to not use the label for myself, I’m also wary of eliminating active disengagement from the system as a politically valid option. The American political system in all of its glaring imperfection can certainly not be seen as the only way or the most important way to affect social change and justice in our society, and I don’t think it needs to be seen as an indispensable tool, either. Yeah, sometimes it’s the best tool we’ve got, but if we can figure out ways to avoid using a broken tool that hurts us when we use it more often than not, I’m all for that, too.

Cross-posted at AngryBrownButch

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19 comments for “And yes, even now, third party candidates matter.

  1. Evan
    November 4, 2008 at 5:26 am

    Thank you. I am, for pragmatic reasons, currently a Democrat. I think that our political system is pretty royally screwed up: the USA has the largest military the world has ever seen as well as the largest “intelligence” apparatus. We have been more or less constantly expanding them since 1948, and we don’t have them so that we let them lie idle. One can definitely make the argument that the government lacks the capability to make good decisions on behalf of its citizens, and withdrawing public support by greatly decreasing voter turnout will destroy the illusion that it acts in the people’s interest.

    BUT, in my opinion, the only thing worse than the perpetuation of the status quo is putting a crazy old man in charge. I voted for Kerry, and I have already voted for Obama (yay vote-by-mail! yay Oregon!). This fact, however, could never make me lose respect for a nonvoter. Conscientious nonvoters can truly be said to have the courage of their convictions, and I wish them the best in convincing others to follow in their footsteps. Were I to believe that this were a less consequential election, I would be right there with them.

  2. November 4, 2008 at 5:27 am

    Instant Runoff Voting accomplishes very little. Score voting is better and simpler.

  3. lilacsigil
    November 4, 2008 at 7:01 am

    We have preferential voting for state and federal lower-house candidates here in Australia, and while it does keep a certain level of federal funding going to small parties, it almost always elects one of the two main parties. People vote for their small-party or independent candidate, then put their least bad major party before the other party, and that’s where the vote usually ends up. It’s good in some ways – you never throw away your vote – but bad in others – it still goes down to major parties, a lot more donkey votes, and parties can direct your preferences in some kinds of voting.

    Proportional representation WITH preferential voting? We have that for our upper houses. Now that rocks!

  4. Wanda
    November 4, 2008 at 7:35 am

    I figured you wouldn’t post my response. “Feministe”… hardly. VOTED GREEN ANYWAY! :-P Sellout.

  5. November 4, 2008 at 8:47 am

    @Evan: Thanks for the thoughtful response and the good points.

    @Clay: Interesting – never heard of score voting, but I’ll have to read about it.

    @lilacsigil: Ah yes – proportional representation + IRV is really where it’s at. But even just IRV would be a big step in the right direction. And hey, how do you find the whole compulsory voting thing there in Australia?

    @Wanda: I didn’t *see* your comment to post it, so maybe it never even got through. Try submitting it again and provided it’s appropriate it’ll go up.

  6. November 4, 2008 at 10:08 am

    I live in the UK, where I can either vote for Labour, which still has a couple of vaguely left-wing economic policies, but are horrible xenophobes that want to suspend civil liberties or the Liberal Democrats, who are very pro – civil rights and pro-immigrant, but against the minimum wage. (There’s NO WAY I’m voting Tory).

    So I might spoil my ballot at the next election. Because the idea of not voting really gnaws at me, but I don’t know if I can support either of the two options available to me in good conscience.

  7. beka
    November 4, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    Although I’m waaaaay too young to vote (two months till I’m fifteen!) and although I’m from a country where voting is both compulsory and kind of a foregone conclusion (one-party state!), I’ve really been following the US elections with interest, partly because I worry for the effect the next presidency will have on global stability.

    A friend of mine is just packing to go off on a two-week family vacation, and we were having a last-minute discussion on politics today. “Update me on the results as they come in,” she told me sternly (something my mum wants me to do even as she’s at work tomorrow), before adding for one last confirmation, “You do support Obama, don’t you?” And I felt rather guilty because in the whole Obamania pretty much everyone I know has been going through, the McKinney ticket has totally been ignored; I don’t believe there was even a mention locally, and one journalist even erroneously referred to Sarah Palin as the first female VP candidate.

    So on the eve of the election results, while recognising that it’s Obama who has a viable shot at changing the American landscape, I agree with Latoya Peterson that the Green Party has definitely been neglected in media coverage, and that’s a real shame.

    And while spoiling the ballot will be an option in the future elections I participate in, I have mixed feelings toward nonvoting. Jack writes, “not voting is an intentional, thoughtful, deliberate act on the part of people who think that it is more harmful to validate an intrinsically corrupt system by voting than to possibly make a win easier for the greater of two evils by not voting”; on the one hand I envy the ability to refrain from voting, and on the other I think compulsory voting may still be a good thing…

  8. little apples
    November 4, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Voting for a third candadate is basically voting for McCain. For shame. Ugh. Voting 3rd party does not make sense in this election. If you want McCain to lose, VOTE FOR OBAMA, otherwise, you ARE voting for McCain. Jesus, it’s not that hard of a concept.

  9. Chelsea
    November 4, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    I personally voted for McKinney/Clemente to protest the winner-take-all system that keeps the United States trapped with only two viable alternatives when there are many more than two platforms on which to run.

    Plus, I live in Texas, so it’s going McCain anyway.

  10. little apples
    November 4, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    So … you voted for McCain, Chelsea. Good going.


    If Obama loses, one reason will be you morons voting third party.

  11. November 4, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Little Apples, please reference our comment policy before commenting further. You are free to disagree and argue, but you are not free to insult other community members with words like “moron,” and if you continue to do so you will not be allowed to comment here any longer.

  12. November 4, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    I’m sorry but this B.S. gets tiresome. Neither the Democrats, the Republicans, the Greens or anyone is entitled to my vote no matter how much they might think or believe they own it or me. When I vote for a candidate, I vote for that candidate for well-thought out reasons and often in a difficult process just like those who chastise me for not voting for their candidate. If you can’t respect that, then you have not earned my respect.

    If Obama loses, it’ll either be a fault in his campaigning, the fact that American Whites can’t vote for a Black man or election corruption (as it was in 2000).

    Honestly, if these self-righteous Democrats spent as much time pointing fingers at the people who corrupted the election process disenfranchising millions of voters and violating the Voting Act as they did wagging at fingers at third party candidates, then maybe people wouldn’t be scared in many places that there will be corruption this year. And people are very worried about this. But when it’s happened before, where were all these Democrats in power that could have done something (even if not successfully changing the race, at least helping people feel safer in the process).

    And Chelsea, I respect you for exercising your right to vote as you choose. It’s your vote and it means what you choose it to mean. Yes, it does seem like the two-party is not representative of everyone in this politically diverse country. We need more options.

  13. November 4, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks for responding to that, Cara and Radfem. Am sneaking in a little blogging time right now in the middle of a busy day, else I would’ve responded earlier and similarly.

  14. Angeline
    November 4, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    I voted McKinney/Clemente as well, Chelsea. While I hope that Obama wins, since he’s better than McCain, he definitely does not represent my values anywhere near as well as McKinney does. And no matter what anyone says, I am damn proud to say that I voted for the person that I think is best for the job and who best represents me. And almost as proud to put at least a nick in the two-party system.

  15. ian
    November 4, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    Although I consider myself an Independent, I’ve always voted for either a Republican or a Democrat, out of practicality. But I’ve grown quite disillusioned by our One Party/Two Factions system. This time I decided to vote for what I truly believe best match my values and conviction. I voted Green. It was a truly liberating feeling. Folks who think voting third party is a waste just don’t get it. The only wasted vote is one that’s not cast.

  16. November 5, 2008 at 1:29 am

    @Ian –

    The only wasted vote is one that’s not cast.

    Thank you. My post was not dedicated to the “fill in the blank reason that I am politically engaged but not voting crowd.” It’s to the people who want to comment on politics, but never see fit to ever make that first step to engage at any level. I can’t wait to check the voter turnout numbers for tomorrow.

  17. Terry Bouricius
    November 5, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Instant runoff voting (IRV) is a very important pro-democracy reform, that can avoid the “spoiler” problem, and unlike some pet voting method reforms that have tiny Internet groups of supporters, IRV has a chance to sweep the country and is already actually being successfully adopted in the U.S. — starting with San Francisco’s historic 2004 IRV election, my own city of Burlington (VT), Minneapolis (MN), and as of yesterday, Memphis (TN), to name a few. Folks can learn more about IRV at

  18. November 5, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    @Latoya: I definitely agree with your insistence that people engage on some level, whether through voting or some other sort of political (and I’d add community) engagement. I was just responding to you saying that “not voting should NEVER be an option,” which seemed pretty definitive and all-encompassing, but I see where you were trying to direct that. For myself, I think that despite the deep flaws in our electoral and political systems, and despite the fact that true change comes from the bottom up, not from the top down, I still think it’s worth it and important to vote. But I can also get why others might not.

  19. November 9, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    One of the least discussed side effects of Obama’s landslide victory is the further marginalization of third parties in the United States.
    As someone that lives in Europe, it is hard to not notice that the United States seems isolated among Western democracies in its determination to head to a further entrenchment in a bipolar political landscape.
    Third party candidates are a vital part of the democratic process. Yet the United States’ political system deliberately hinders pluralism by limiting the exposure of third party candidates to media.
    For more:

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